Walking the cat

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Tue Jun 1 02:02:36 UTC 2010

Larry cites an item from The Daily Kos, 2006, in which the writer uses the phrase without explaining it, which suggests that he expects his readers to be familiar with it, that it has a history previous to this passage.

The meaning which the expression has in this 2006 passage is something like "refute" or "expose the dastardly motives of those who are propagating a false story".  David Carr is writing about Newsweek, which has been put up for sale, and is speculating about who might want to buy it, and why, and also why it may work out that no one will want it.  He supposes that "nascent Web news sites" will not be interested in acquiring the name-recognition or mystique of Newsweek, because ". . . it is much less cost-intensive to build out a new brand than to try to walk back the cat on a legacy business" -- so whatever David Carr thinks "walking back the cat" means, it's something quite different from what the writer on The Daily Kos had in mind.  I'm not clear whether Carr is supposing that Newsweek could be pushed at one of these Web news sites as a print-on-paper incarnation of their web activities, or as a source of reputation or readership that can be transferred to their web site
-- but in any case, "revive" or "repurpose" would come close.

Finally: isn't "walk back the cat" an odd sequence of words?  I myself would be unlikely ever to talk of cat-walking, my experience being that cats walk when and where they will, but if I were to do so, I would say "walk the cat back".


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

----- Original Message -----
From: Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
Date: Monday, May 31, 2010 8:41 pm
Subject: Re: Walking the cat

> At 8:30 PM -0400 5/31/10, George Thompson wrote:
> >  >From David Carr's "Media Equation" column in Monday's NYTimes
> >Business section (section B, p. 1 & 8, quoting p. 8, col. 1).
> >
> >. . . it is much less cost-intensive to build out a new brand than
> >to try to walk back the cat on a legacy business.
> >
> >What does this mean?  I'm baffled, as is my cat Panurge.
> >
> >GAT
> Apparently no cats are harmed in the practice, but consequences for
> humans may be less sanguine.  Here's an entry from the Daily Kos blog
> on the expression:  http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/5/21/7496/03568
> There's also an eponymous book:
> http://www.amazon.com/Walk-Back-Cat-Pamela-Ewen/dp/0805443444
> LH
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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